Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Increase in estate tax exemption

The federal estate tax exemption will increase from $5,250,000 in 2013 to $5,340,000 in 2014. A single person who dies with less than that amount in taxable assets will not have a concern about Federal estate taxes.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The talk of the town

NPR does a story on Lacrosse, Wisconsin, “The Town Where Everyone Talks About Death.” About 96% of the residents of Lacrosse have executed advance directives; by comparison, about 30% of adults nationwide have done so. This is the result, the story says, of one man’s efforts to train nurses to begin the discussion with patients and their families well in advance of a serious illness.

In Michigan, a statute [MCL 700.5506] provides for a person to prepare and sign a Designation of Patient Advocate form to permit another person “to exercise powers concerning care, custody, and medical or mental health treatment decisions for the individual” when the need arises. Under section 5508, the patient advocate is authorized to act only if the person is unable to participate in medical decisions for himself.

The patient advocate form is essential for unmarried couples, same-sex couples, and others who do not wish to rely on their nearest relatives to make these decisions for them.

Another available document is the advance directive, sometimes known as a “living will.” This one is not based on a statutory provision, but rather is based on a Michigan Supreme Court decision that held that a family member may only request that extraordinary medical interventions be discontinued if there is “clear and convincing evidence” that this is what the patient wished. A writing signed by the patient, specifying when and how he does not want (and does want) such interventions is the clearest and most convincing evidence.

We normally recommend that both documents be prepared. The advance directive is an excellent reminder to the Patient Advocate of what the individual wants and does not want when the time comes to act. We also make available a special optional form of advance directive, for interested clients, to direct that these decisions be made in conformance with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

It is also important that these issues be discussed in advance, with all interested family members or others, so that the individual’s wishes are known.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

CMS addresses issues for newly eligible Medicaid beneficiaries

If you have been following the Affordable Care Act, you know that Michigan is one of the states which elected to expand its Medicaid program, effective April 1, 2014. Previously, Medicaid coverage was available only to those who were poor enough to qualify and who met certain category requirements, the most prominent being pregnant women, children, the elderly and the disabled. A person between 18 and 55, not disabled, but just poor, did not qualify.

The ACA introduced a new concept of eligibility based on what it defines as the person's "Modified Annual Gross Income" or MAGI. If your household MAGI is under a specified level, essentially 138% of the current year's Federal Poverty Level, you can be eligible for Medicaid coverage. Importantly, the "MAGI individuals," as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) calls people newly eligible under these rules, are not subject to asset or resource limits. Formerly, a poor person who was in one of the permitted categories would be eligible only if he had less than $2,000 in countable assets. Under the MAGI criterion, a person can have thousands of dollars in the bank and still qualify for Medicaid as long as his MAGI is under the limit.

On February 21, 2014, Cindy Mann, Director of CMS, issued a letter to all of the state Medicaid agencies (PDF) addressing several questions that have arisen under this new program, as it concerns persons receiving Long-Term Supports and Services (LTSS) such as nursing home care. Few people will be eligible for LTSS under the MAGI criteria. The letter observes that "The vast majority of people in need of Medicaid-covered LTSS will qualify under eligibility categories related to age or disability." But for those who will become newly-eligible, some of the MAGI rules will be different from those that apply to persons eligible based on age and disability.

We can paraphrase the letter's conclusions as follows:

Estate recovery - States will not be able to assert claims for estate recovery for medical assistance paid to persons eligible only under MAGI, since they are regarded as exempt under the new law. States may continue to assert claims for estate recovery for those over the age of 55 for nursing home care, home-based community services, and some other benefits, as previously.

CMS has announced that it "intends" to eliminate or limit estate recovery for any benefits other than LTSS; just how it plans to put that intent into practice is not clear.

Asset transfers during a 5-year lookback period - will apply to MAGI individuals.

Annuities, promissory notes, life estate interests - will apply to MAGI individuals.

Special needs trusts - At least as they concern self-settled trusts, CMS considers that the current rules will apply to MAGI individuals. The letter is silent as to third party trusts.

Home equity limitations - As with other beneficiaries, MAGI individuals will only be able to exempt the first $543,000 to $810,000 of the value of the home. (Why CMS has arrived at this conclusion is unknown; it does not seem to be consistent with the "no asset test" stance of the new law.)

Post-eligibility income - CMS has determined that its regulations "as currently written" cannot be applied to MAGI individuals, but it is considering new regulations on this topic. It does believe that it has the authority to do so under the Medicaid statute.

For additional information: